By Chinmaya Shah:
I remember that episode where comedian Russell Peters mentioned about his visit to India and his senses went to extremes as soon as he landed at the airport. Though I was offended, but hey, isn’t that a reality? Don’t we agree that we have adjusted ourselves of getting used to filth and heaps of waste lying around us?
In a backdrop of ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan‘ (Clean India Campaign) inaugurated by our PM, the Ministry Of Urban Development released a list of an urban city rating where Chandigarh, not surprisingly, topped as the cleanest city with 73.48 points, followed by Mysore. For many reasons, Le Corbusier and his chief architects must have been happy today as the first planned city clearly had enough credentials to get its work noticed. A city divided into sectors with each constituting its own school, market, hospital, government buildings and lanes – all placed perfectly in a cobweb along with crossroads simultaneously. Scoring well on traffic and waste management, however, it failed to do well in the ‘Green’ category. The capital city Delhi ranked 4th with 68.26 points. Not to mention that recently WHO marked Delhi as one of the most polluted cities in Asia in terms of air pollution. What an irony!
With 4260 crore rupees getting annually spent on rural sanitation, a little of it is seen to come for the rescue. Even in the case of Delhi, where NDMC spends a lot of money in the upkeep of toilets, open defecation hasn’t been put to a halt. Interestingly, in many places around the capital, local people have teamed up by placing images of a religious deity on walls. However, one finds a person urinating at some considerable distance from those divine images. Certainly, ‘urgency’ knows its ways to fit in.
Having grown up in an era of ‘yojanas’ and ‘abhiayans’, it is important for me to see ‘Swachh Bharat Abhiyan’ as not getting flushed away in mere tokenism. At a point where government will try its best to meet the deadline by 2019, the structural flaws are some key points to be looked upon to make the campaign effective. A report suggested that a large part of money, energy and time is consumed in order to bring waste materials (sewage and solid) to treatment plants and decomposition sites. On the one hand where Indian cities are witnessing an ever expanding rate, and wastage treatment plants being located in suburbs, it’s high time for the government to come up with localized solutions. As cities are getting flocked with thousands of people every day, the entire city structure doesn’t seem capable of holding on for long in terms of clean water, health and sanitation, forget food and shelter alone. Rivers like Yamuna and Sabarmati, along which major industries have been established, have ended up as ‘nullahs’. Also, these are the rivers supplying water to irrigation fields, thus endangering even those elite few who think of not getting affected by pollution and sanitation crisis.
The list released by the Ministry Of Urban Development also listed Churu in Rajasthan as the dirtiest city, followed by Lakhimpur and Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh. 423 Indian cities were surveyed and rated on 19 sanitation indicators on a 100 points scale.
So, what can be done? The ‘Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana’ encourages members of both the houses to choose a model village by 2016 in an attempt to cover 2500 villages of the 6 lakh villages all over India. But not only intense monitoring and realization of civic responsibility by leaders is needed, but also engagement of local citizens should find relevance here. On a personal note, my work with ‘Vimarsh’, an NGO in the Himalayan belt of Uttarakhand region, focused on volunteers engaging with children and senior people from different villages and educating them on the consequences of defecating in the open, through posters and other mediums.
In many hill stations, Nainital being the case in point, a community level program has been started in order to counter disturbance in the local ecological sphere. ‘Mission Butterfly’ was launched by civic workers along with local administration to segregate biodegradable and non-biodegradable waste before its processing. It also included awareness campaigns in schools, with students educating people and providing shops with biodegradable bags. Also, municipalities made some areas a no-plastic zone, charging 500 rupees for anyone carrying it. However, latter part of it proved to be a failure as the garbage was dumped in the outskirts. But, surely, some effective measures to work on small level communities can be drawn from there. Dustbins in the form of penguins are visible and are kept at a distance of 200 meters from each other, not only working to its cause, but also attracting attention of youngsters in whose minds its usage is needed to be taught.
There lies an urgent need to make people realize that their public space should also be treated as private, as it needs equal attention. Unlike other campaigns, this most hyped ‘swachh bharat campaign’ bears the burden of expectations as it caters to all sections of society moving beyond caste, creed and religion, focusing more on personal hygiene and sanitation. Also, it’s time for us to introspect and try to engage with it in some way or the other. Since blaming the government every time will not clean our mess. Remember, the next time you litter, the garbage will be cleaned by someone working under inhospitable conditions, in potholes as a manual scavenger, or as a rag picker in their attempt to maintain a breathing space for us. But their story, as always, will unfortunately remain untold.